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D&D General I'm reading the Forgotten Realms Novels- #132 Heirs of Prophecy by Lisa Smedman (Sembia 5)

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#128 The Halls of Stormweather Ed. Philip Athans (Sembia 1)
Read 10/6/21 to 17/6/21


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So, there are seven books in this series, and this one- the first one, is the set-up, the intro for all that comes next. That's a nice way to start a series, and a good way to make a little extra money by producing an additional novel, or rather series of short stories. Also a freebie for the series' authors, a chance to set up their protagonists ahead of time.

It also gives us a chance to take a look around Selgaunt and the region of Sembia, a little geography, plenty of politics- a bit of history and intrigue, and so who better to lead us off than Faerun's loving father- Ed Greenwood.

But that's enough of that...

There are plenty of good things in this book, not least the promise that it makes- some of what comes next could be good, after all Selgaunt and Sembia seem to be very adventuresome places, there's lots of intrigue with merchant families doing their best to stab each other in the back. There's a mad king/leader-type, the Hulorn- there's a fair amount of magic, there are plenty of the downtrodden, and... well- all the pieces are in place.

I'm a little more optimistic than usual.

That said, there's the usual issue- the heroes of this and the following six novels are another wealthy family, with all the power and prestige already in their corner, if they fail spectacularly (and don't die) then someone will come and pick them up and see that they're alright.

Apologies for the constant class war politics but I am sick to death of reading about the brave and wonderful sons and daughters of the monied and landed gentry that are here to save the day.

I want my heroes lowborn, because the distance travelled is far greater- when they make it against the odds to herohood, their lives are irrevocably changed, and they require fewer crutches along the way.

Rant over.

Then there's the fact that some of the novelettes are not as good as the others, and samey-same, some of the characters we meet are less interesting than the others. There are oddities here- Richard Lee Byers magical realist fantasy is like some mad mix of a Queen Rock Opera and a Jodorowsky movie. It's weird, and then it just peters out... there's even a bit in which the protagonist (Shamur Uskreven- from memory) puts her sword in her mouth before leaping onto the back of a charging Gorgon. The blade is a mighty broadsword she wrestled from the cold dead hands of a huge orc earlier, if it helps your imagination any then Shamur is small and slight. It all seems a little like bobble-headed anime at times in this one.

And here's the thing- Taz (Thazienne Uskreven) is in this story too, but later she gets a story all of her very own, and another walk on in yet another. The first Taz is a bratish punk kid with the skills to pay the bills, in her later appearances she retains her skills but gets a lot more in the way of depth and character (and is not at all bratish).

So, there's a little odd- every now and then I had to stop and think back, try to reconcile the different versions of the same character, but some of this is inevitable so, not a biggie.

Also, to everyone that has read this series- Erevis Cale is a mixture of Artemis and Jarlaxle, only with his ethics compass (from what I have read so far) pointing to GOOD. That right? A little bit dodgy, and with a past (and plenty of contacts no doubt) but otherwise no job too difficult in order to keep the Master (and some of the other family) safe and well.

We'll see.

So, it was slow to begin with- but Greenwood is like that, the Gross and Kemp stories were the standout for me, and I love the fact that I already have three new favourite characters- Taz, Tal and the butler who (most probably) done it- Erevis Cale.

Read.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan
 

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Dire Bare

Legend
#128 The Halls of Stormweather Ed. Philip Athans (Sembia 1)
Read 10/6/21 to 17/6/21


View attachment 138478

So, there are seven books in this series, and this one- the first one, is the set-up, the intro for all that comes next. That's a nice way to start a series, and a good way to make a little extra money by producing an additional novel, or rather series of short stories. Also a freebie for the series' authors, a chance to set up their protagonists ahead of time.

It also gives us a chance to take a look around Selgaunt and the region of Sembia, a little geography, plenty of politics- a bit of history and intrigue, and so who better to lead us off than Faerun's loving father- Ed Greenwood.

But that's enough of that...

There are plenty of good things in this book, not least the promise that it makes- some of what comes next could be good, after all Selgaunt and Sembia seem to be very adventuresome places, there's lots of intrigue with merchant families doing their best to stab each other in the back. There's a mad king/leader-type, the Hulorn- there's a fair amount of magic, there are plenty of the downtrodden, and... well- all the pieces are in place.

I'm a little more optimistic than usual.

That said, there's the usual issue- the heroes of this and the following six novels are another wealthy family, with all the power and prestige already in their corner, if they fail spectacularly (and don't die) then someone will come and pick them up and see that they're alright.

Apologies for the constant class war politics but I am sick to death of reading about the brave and wonderful sons and daughters of the monied and landed gentry that are here to save the day.

I want my heroes lowborn, because the distance travelled is far greater- when they make it against the odds to herohood, their lives are irrevocably changed, and they require fewer crutches along the way.

Rant over.

Then there's the fact that some of the novelettes are not as good as the others, and samey-same, some of the characters we meet are less interesting than the others. There are oddities here- Richard Lee Byers magical realist fantasy is like some mad mix of a Queen Rock Opera and a Jodorowsky movie. It's weird, and then it just peters out... there's even a bit in which the protagonist (Shamur Uskreven- from memory) puts her sword in her mouth before leaping onto the back of a charging Gorgon. The blade is a mighty broadsword she wrestled from the cold dead hands of a huge orc earlier, if it helps your imagination any then Shamur is small and slight. It all seems a little like bobble-headed anime at times in this one.

And here's the thing- Taz (Thazienne Uskreven) is in this story too, but later she gets a story all of her very own, and another walk on in yet another. The first Taz is a bratish punk kid with the skills to pay the bills, in her later appearances she retains her skills but gets a lot more in the way of depth and character (and is not at all bratish).

So, there's a little odd- every now and then I had to stop and think back, try to reconcile the different versions of the same character, but some of this is inevitable so, not a biggie.

Also, to everyone that has read this series- Erevis Cale is a mixture of Artemis and Jarlaxle, only with his ethics compass (from what I have read so far) pointing to GOOD. That right? A little bit dodgy, and with a past (and plenty of contacts no doubt) but otherwise no job too difficult in order to keep the Master (and some of the other family) safe and well.

We'll see.

So, it was slow to begin with- but Greenwood is like that, the Gross and Kemp stories were the standout for me, and I love the fact that I already have three new favourite characters- Taz, Tal and the butler who (most probably) done it- Erevis Cale.

Read.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan
If you enjoy Erevis Cale, you're in luck. After the Sembia series closes, Cale gets a pile of novels that focus on him as the protagonist, with a new crew of supporting characters separate from the Stormweather family. He's definitely the stand-out character of this series.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#129 Shadow's Witness by Paul S Kemp (Sembia 2)
Read 24/6/21 to 26/6/21


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Now that's more like it...

Maybe I'm a simple soul but this is exactly the sort of thing that I want to read here, although let's get a few caveats in first.

I may have skipped it but Erevis Cale looks to me to be a middle-aged, or at least 40-something year old feller, and so his love/obsession with the very young Taz seems, well... I understand what the author was aiming for but... creepy. Obviously times have changed but still, I almost don't get how this part of the story got retained, Erevis (surely) could have been a father figure with very little lost. So, ignore this stuff as best you can, if you want.

Also- "Dark!"

I equally like and dislike the way in which the author has turned "Dark!" into the catch-all epithet used to describe all situations that are vaguely, well... "Dark!"

"Dark!", is just what people say in Selgaunt (and maybe further afield) although maybe it's just the cool folk that say "Dark!", street slang- that kind of thing.

I even have a favourite "Dark!" from the novel, the "Dark!" in question has more L's in it, and you are going to have to read it to find it.

So, the rest...

The rest is the best Forgotten Realms novel that I have read for months, there's Erevis & Jak, there are villains- including Yrsillar, the demon, and a few of his lesser shadow demon chums. The demons are very cool- and having read this I now have a better way to describe the wounds and hurt they cause- love that.

Same for a bunch of other things, in fact this is basically a scenario (or version) of something I want to stat out and try to run/DM. Nice plot, nice enemies, great environs- rooftops, thieves guild, sewers, Avernus et al.

The way that Erevis finds the light, I mean- "Dark!" and becomes a Champion of Mask.

This is all just so wonderfully take-able, what I have read here will change my game- which is exactly what I want from these books.

I'm also can't wait to get to the other Cale books now, so this one did its job- and then some.

Read- a "Dark!" cracker.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan
 

jeremypowell

Adventurer
#129 Shadow's Witness by Paul S Kemp (Sembia 2)
Read 24/6/21 to 26/6/21

I may have skipped it but Erevis Cale looks to me to be a middle-aged, or at least 40-something year old feller, and so his love/obsession with the very young Taz seems, well... I understand what the author was aiming for but... creepy. Obviously times have changed but still, I almost don't get how this part of the story got retained, Erevis (surely) could have been a father figure with very little lost. So, ignore this stuff as best you can, if you want.
He’s thirty-six or so in this one. (Born 1335 DR.) Tazi is twenty-two or so (born 1349). I’m not saying that makes it unimpeachable—if it seems creepy if he’s forty, it probably also seems creepy if he’s thirty-six. Me, I don’t think a relationship between a thirty-six-year-old and a twenty-two-year-old is inherently creepy. What IS creepy is the fact that when he became the family butler in 1361, he was twenty-six and she was twelve. (The story is clear he didn’t love her until she became an adult, for whatever that’s worth.)

At any rate, keep reading—the Cale novels will continue to impress, and while you have arguably already seen the best of the Sembia series, most of the rest of those are also pretty good.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
He’s thirty-six or so in this one. (Born 1335 DR.) Tazi is twenty-two or so (born 1349). I’m not saying that makes it unimpeachable—if it seems creepy if he’s forty, it probably also seems creepy if he’s thirty-six. Me, I don’t think a relationship between a thirty-six-year-old and a twenty-two-year-old is inherently creepy. What IS creepy is the fact that when he became the family butler in 1361, he was twenty-six and she was twelve. (The story is clear he didn’t love her until she became an adult, for whatever that’s worth.)

At any rate, keep reading—the Cale novels will continue to impress, and while you have arguably already seen the best of the Sembia series, most of the rest of those are also pretty good.

That makes it better, thank you- much less creepy.

Cheers Paul
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#130 The Shattered Mask by Richard Lee Byers (Sembia 3)
Read 1/7/21 to 5/7/21


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And another good one, perhaps not as good as the last, but- now I've written that, in some ways better.

If you can't figure the plot out for this one by the time you get to about page twenty then you need to give your head a shake, because it's not working right. But that's not really the thing with these books, and particularly if you've read a lot of them.

Shamur and Thamalon don't know each other, which is down to the fact (mostly) that Shamur has a secret. Time to let the cat out of the bag, and... everyone lives happily(-ish) ever after. In a nutshell.

But again, that much is obvious from the get-go, it's the path it takes that aligns with my fantasy fiction desires.

Selgaunt is getting better, or else better known to me (and any other reader), there are places to visit here, and organisations to make use of in your game. Some very nice locales (the theatre, the floating city, the scab), and some equally nice enemy organisations to get your PCs involved with.

It's a rip-roaring adventure at times, and with bags of action- and very well plotted- by which I mean the tension is rising, the action (and the spectacle/event) growing. The finale involves a hoard of summoned creatures- behir, gnolls, carrion crawlers; an earthquake like spell- on a densely populated bridge in the middle of the city, the creepiest of devilish minions, and with the creepiest (and yet most polite) dead bad guy wizard.

Marance (the dead bad guy wizard) and Bileworm are just a fantastic double act, and more so because the author has not gone the usual route- they're not (just) scheming evil big bads that only speak in proclamation.

Marance is so awfully polite (to the rest of his family) and so formal, sure he's a scenery chewing villain but he does it with style and elan. While Bileworm, well... I want one. The evil sidekick that steals the show, a capering dark spirit that devours the fear of its victims.

It's the little stuff that makes me grin, as the Talendar patriarch (Marance's brother) squirms on the floor before a great serpent (he's terrified of snakes) Bileworm heads over to watch the spectacle- to drink it all in. I/you can imagine the foul miscreant- gurgling (giggling) and slavering, feeding on the old man's fear. Lovely.

Then there's the Uskevren's- Shamur, of course, is the main player in this one but all of the family get a go, and what's great about this (and the three books in the series I have read so far) is that they seem to be in character. By which I mean what I have read so far all gels together, there have been other series here in which character A appears in several novels, and in each seems to be vastly different. Author A does this thing, while author B does something different- the result, character A becomes unbelievable, or else confused, or else (more likely) just annoying. There is consistency here, and I like that.

It also helps that Mr Richard Lee Byers has a way with words, it's well written- not overly wordy and saddled with lore and explanation, just... visceral, and clever, and... well, just so nicely put together.

I finished the novel liking the Uskreven's better, and that must be a good thing.

Don't get me wrong, they're still the A Team, meets Scooby Doo, meets the Adam's Family, meets... oh, but you get my drift. They all have the skills to pay the bills, and they're posh folk with money and resources (which I like here less often). But, they'll do for me- if there's more like this to discover in these novels then I'm going to be a happy man. Whoever it was that co-ordinated the Sembia project did a great job sharing the knowledge, and keeping all of the authors in line.

Read- bordering on the great.

Scratch that- great.

It's a daft thing to say but it also helps that the novels seem to overlap, or else build on what has come before- coherent and more surprisingly for a multi-author project it seems to be building something greater than the sum of its parts. I hope- don't let me down.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#131 Black Wolf by Dave Gross (Sembia 4)
Read 10/7/21 to 12/7/21


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And it's another good 'un, I am really liking the Sembia series, the odd thing is I have never thought (previously) about setting any adventures in the region in my game, I guess that's because I didn't know about the place and that the focus is mostly on the Sword Coast. All of my games have been as much coast as they have been sword, if you get me.

While this book is about Talbot, the Black Wolf in question- whoops, gave that away, it is as much about Darrow, a servile nobody that serves as our eyes and ears to a variety of fiendish operations, he's easily lead is our Darrow.

So, while there's plenty more of the up and downs of the latest member of the Uskevren family, and Tal in particular, Darrow is FTW the guy that goes places, and sees things that I- as a DM, want to bare witness to. Darrow gets to visit with all of the supercool bad guys- from Radu, a very dark noble swordsman- we can't have seen the last of him, to Stannis his blubbery aquatic vampire brother.

Radu is great, and while he doesn't do a whole lot of talking, he's the strong and silent deadly villain- privileged, powerful and a stone-cold killer. But Stannis, oh Stannis- soft spoken, polite and super-camp, and a terrible vampiric monstrosity. Want to get an insight into how to play a bloodsucking noble, Stannis is your man- great lair, great servants, great chitter-chat, and Darrow gets to see it all.

Then there's the Nightwalkers, lycanthropes- and specifically werewolves, Rusk and the gang- the Huntmaster, again- want to see how to play a pack of werewolves, then just read this novel. There's also plenty here for readers interested in Malar (the Lord of the Hunt) and Selune (Mistress Moon), you've got to love the fact that Feena (and her mother) are werewolves too.

So, Selgaunt and the area is still a great place to visit, there's plenty more of the Uskevren family- although this subplot and the various other ongoing threads play second fiddle to the monstrous nature of our antagonist/protagonist. There's just a ton of stuff to like here, and more importantly for me- to grab for my own game.

That said the end is a little disappointing- I like that folk have to die, some of the good guys get slaughtered, but it all seems a little too easy, too quick, or at least the confrontation with Rusk et al does. I fear/hop that we are going to be seeing some of the survivors of this finale fracs in other books in the series, fingers-crossed.

Also, at times there's a lot of plot to wade through- none of it difficult to follow but it gets wriggly in places. Oh, she's Eckert's daughter. or Oh, Rusk is her dad, there's so much of it at times that it somewhat deflates the impact. Some of the revelations just become speed bumps on the road, rather than starting reveals. That's not a bad thing necessarily but at times it just feels like if the author had another 100 pages to play with they would have took us on a bigger better ride, and still had room for a more satisfying climax at the end.

Read. Very good.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#132 Heirs of Prophecy by Lisa Smedman (Sembia 5)
Read 15/7/21 to 20/7/21


IMG_3261.JPG


Well, it had to happen- this one isn't quite as good as the others in this series, at least- well, the end leaves a lot to be desired. I get the fact that the author is trying to do something different with the ending. The only way to stop the war is... Love. But it's very clunky and in places just feels like a peremptory version of something better, cleverer, and more keeping with D&D game. The complete bewilderment of the super-villain archwizard (half-) drow bad guy is... silly is the word that keeps springing to mind.

Which is a pity because a lot of what came before is great, and certainly in the style of the other books in this series, and there's enough hand-holds here for the reader to see how it all fits into the larger Sembia story. So, that's good- as is Larajin as she makes her way into her new world... of elves. However, Leifander suffers for the same reasons- he's just a boorish elf, I mean... you don't get to write that too often, the elves (so far as I have read) mostly get a good press here. Mostly, there are obvious exceptions, and particularly when it's elf on elf action in the FR novels, they don't get on at times.

But again, Leifander comes off as a bit of a clot, and quick to anger- almost impossible to cool, he's not very elfish, but he's a kid, I guess. Oddly the rest of the elves that we get to meet are not at all like him- they're task (class) orientated and capable of careful thought and consideration. They're very good, the rest of the cast are either shallow, or else a little comic, particularly, and again this is where it falls down again, for me, the Hillsfar chief and (laterly) new arch villain- Maalthiir, I just don't get it.

A novel, particularly in this genre, is only as good as its villain- Drakkar, the half-drow Wizard is suitably terrifying, and a nice black cloud always on the horizon. Maalthiir is about as menacing as... well, nothing- he's not menacing at all. The threat seems to get muddled at the end, it's been good trying to stop a war but now... well, the author has to end it, and that's always going to anticlimactic; that's what a de-escalation of conflict achieves.

I just had the feeling at the end I had got sucker punched, lots of nice build up and good info- some semi-interesting characters, and then... Love you lots! Let's make everything all nice again.

Read

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.
 

jeremypowell

Adventurer
#132 Heirs of Prophecy by Lisa Smedman
I enjoyed this one, though like you I didn't love it. I don't mind so much when an FR author diverges from the typical D&D tropes regarding strong villains, climactic battles, etc., or even subverts those expectations entirely—perhaps because the D&D I run is somewhat skewed away from combat compared to the average DM (my ideal campaign is 25% exploration, 25% combat, 50% interaction; in the end a different system like The Dark Eye or The One Ring is better suited to my style, though I end up making do with almost exclusively D&D 5e due to its prevalence and simplicity). But the novel still falls at or near the bottom of my Sembia rankings, for most of the reasons you mention.

Speaking of which, I'm very curious to hear what you think of the final two books in the series, and what your ultimate "best to worst" order will be. The Sembia series was for a long time (and maybe still is) thought of as one of the best FR series for new readers to start out with. It is, to my knowledge, still the only FR series to be reissued in its entirety with new covers (I think the originals are better, if only because they're much more distinctive; you appear to have some of each style), and with a new series tagline/subtitle: "Sembia: Gateway to the Realms" and corresponding "the perfect introduction"-type back cover copy.

My own list for the five you've read so far would be:
1. Shadow's Witness (bk. 2)
2. Black Wolf (bk. 4)
3. Halls of Stormweather (bk. 1)
4. Shattered Mask (bk. 3)
5. Heirs of Prophecy (bk. 5)

... leaving books 6 and 7 (about both of which I have very strong opinions) unranked for now, so as not to influence your own reading of them.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
I enjoyed this one, though like you I didn't love it. I don't mind so much when an FR author diverges from the typical D&D tropes regarding strong villains, climactic battles, etc., or even subverts those expectations entirely—perhaps because the D&D I run is somewhat skewed away from combat compared to the average DM (my ideal campaign is 25% exploration, 25% combat, 50% interaction; in the end a different system like The Dark Eye or The One Ring is better suited to my style, though I end up making do with almost exclusively D&D 5e due to its prevalence and simplicity). But the novel still falls at or near the bottom of my Sembia rankings, for most of the reasons you mention.

Speaking of which, I'm very curious to hear what you think of the final two books in the series, and what your ultimate "best to worst" order will be. The Sembia series was for a long time (and maybe still is) thought of as one of the best FR series for new readers to start out with. It is, to my knowledge, still the only FR series to be reissued in its entirety with new covers (I think the originals are better, if only because they're much more distinctive; you appear to have some of each style), and with a new series tagline/subtitle: "Sembia: Gateway to the Realms" and corresponding "the perfect introduction"-type back cover copy.

My own list for the five you've read so far would be:
1. Shadow's Witness (bk. 2)
2. Black Wolf (bk. 4)
3. Halls of Stormweather (bk. 1)
4. Shattered Mask (bk. 3)
5. Heirs of Prophecy (bk. 5)

... leaving books 6 and 7 (about both of which I have very strong opinions) unranked for now, so as not to influence your own reading of them.

Of the five I have read so far then I'd struggle to to say for definite which one is top, to be honest Shadow's Witness, Shattered Mask & Black Wolf are really hard to put in any particular order. Shadow's Witness because Erevis has the anti-hero thing going on, and the older I think of him being when the action unfolds, then the cooler he gets. This may, of course, be a reflection of my rush through the years. Erevis, for me, is the best character I've found in here so far, but... Black Wolf, with Darrow, and the things he gets to see and do, well... it's a different thing it does but it's a much better story, and goes to some much more (usually) inaccessible places, there's just so much meat in this one, great villains, scenes, drama et al. Then again the Shattered mask, as trite as it is- oh, so we love/like each other, is equally well told, and as much as I dislike the way in which the story/love goes, I can't help but admire the structure, and the number of balls that are kept in the air. Oddly, from memory- and I don't think I said much about this at the time, but I like the language in the book. I'm an ex-lecturer in English, I read a lot of books- and this is an awfully arrogant thing to say but I rarely have to go and look up a word, or else work out from the context what a word is likely to mean. There's also the way that some authors use language to elevate meaning, or to make things more real, visceral. Shattered Mask is good for this, it's one of those books that every now and then made me smirk, and quietly nod, thinking- 'good one, that works.'

So, 2 to 4 all do something different but get in the very crowded top spot.

Next up is Heirs of Prophecy, but again- I'm still smarting at the blow, and if I were scoring these out of ten then Books 2-4 would be somewhere around 8.5 (to 9), while Heirs only scores a 6 (to 6.5).

Halls of Stormweather is/was a bit of this, and then a bit of that... which is amusing in moments, if you want to read short stories then get into James Joyce or Raymond Carver, but mostly not Fantasy Fiction. Don't get me wrong I've read some crackers in my time from the genre but even in the Forgotten Realms author's club, then the quality can dip, or else silliness (imho) can intrude. All anthologies suffer because of this. Don't get me wrong this is a gateway book, its job is to get the reader into much harder substances- the FR novels.

Cheers goonalan
 

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